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Roughing It
Homenetmen’s 7th Jamboree
By Areen Ibranossian
Photo by Mkhitar KhachatrianOn July 26, approximately 550 Armenian scouts are taking part in the seventh Homenetmen General Jamboree. The scouts, all between the ages of 14 and 24, arrived in Yerevan and soon after were bussed up to the camp grounds in Byurakan, about an hour outside of Yerevan.

Homenetmen, which was established nearly 100 years ago, has been organizing General Jamborees like this one for nearly 30 years. Every four years, Homenetmen chapters from all across the world send a delegation of scouts to attend and represent their home countries. The past three jamborees have been held in Armenia. This year, 18 different countries participated and for the first time the region of Javakhk, Georgia, too, sent a delegation of seven scouts. The rest of the countries in attendance are the United States, England, France, Lebanon, Syria, Italy, Australia, Argentina, Greece, Jordan, Iran, Bulgaria, Iraq, Canada, Kuwait, Israel, Armenia and Uruguay.

The United States sent the largest group, a total of 99 youth from all across the country. The smallest group in attendance is fromUruguay, with a total of four scouts. Armenia also has a delegation of 57.

For most of the scouts, this is their first visit to Armenia and most said that they wouldn’t have it any other way. Tina Ohanian,15, from London, England, commented on her first visit to Armenia by saying, “It was an amazing feeling. To be standing on Armenian ground for the first time made me feel extremely proud.” Ohanian has been a scout for over 10 years and got involved mainly because her parents were involved in Homenetmen, but she is quick to point out that her parents’ involvement was not the only reason. “I only see my Armenian friends once a week and that only happens because of Homenetmen. I think it’s important to keep that relationship going, to maintain an active relationship with my fellow Armenians.”

The requirements to attend Jamboree are few. A scout has to be at least 14 years of age, but no older than 24, and have attended camp at least once in their home country. The Homenetmen Executive Committee put that last requirement in because they felt that to ensure that everyone has a safe and pleasant experience the campers need to have some experience living and camping outdoors.

Photo by Mkhitar KhachatrianThis campground is certainly quite an outdoor experience. A large plot of land, an hour from Yerevan, sits on the side of Mt. Aragats, with a tremendous view of Ararat.

There is a large kitchen area with tables and chairs for the scouts to sit and eat and a large bathroom area with brand new fixtures and 24 hour running hot water. At least that’s what one of the scoutmasters announces. The campers laugh. One says, it’s only freezing cold water, and she has to put one arm in at a time or she’ll die.

Besides those few structures, however, everything else is made by the scouts and their scout masters. Everyone sleeps in tents and each one, at one point or another, has to stand guard at night to ensure that no animals or people enter the camp grounds. There are even guards on duty 24 hours a day at the main gate and they will not let you in unless you have been cleared by one of the scout masters or camp organizers. It’s no wonder some of the campers compare the experience to military boot camp.

The sights and sounds of this camp are not like any boot camp though. Upon entering the gates, a sea of tents is visible. Each country’s delegation has a plot of land that includes their home flag and a set of tents for them to sleep in. This is where the size of each group becomes easily evident.

Outside and around the sea of tents, everyone’s busy. One group is sitting in on a discussion about the importance of scouting and maintaining involvement in Armenian activities. Another group is playing a game similar to leap frog, however instead of jumping over one person, a group of 10 stand in a line, bent over, and another set of 10 attempts to jump on top of them, trying to see how many they can stack up until the 10 underneath collapse.

Another group is eating lunch and enjoying the spectacular view of Ararat and the surrounding countryside.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t complaints. Most of the scouts say that the food isn’t too good and that they don’t get enough free time to just hang out with friends. The complaints are minimal and most realize that this is what comes with camping, wherever you are.

Serenah Mirzakhanian, 19, from Tehran Iran, says, “Scouting life is hard, not everyone can do it. You have to like it. I’m happy though, I love being in Armenia, there is so much freedom here.” This was Serenah’s second trip to Armenia, but it was her first Jamboree. She went on to say that the Armenians from Iran usually tend to have an easier time because, “we are used to it; we do a lot of things like this in Iran.”

When asked why they take the time to be involved in Homenetmen, most say they enjoy being with friends and that it’s fun to be around other Armenians. Others, however, feel there is a much deeper reason for being involved. Mano Tavitian, 21, has been a scout for nearly fifteen years says, “I feel if I don’t go to scouts and participate, no one else will do it. If no one else does it, who will teach the younger kids about Armenia and other important things?” Mano, who is from Providence, Rhode Island, is also a Regional representative for his Providence Homenetmen chapter and has attended Jamboree twice.

Mano is not alone in his sentiments. Gourgen Shirinian, a scout from Javakhk, says he is involved, “Because of the young kids. They need to maintain their identity as Armenians. We help them do that, it’s a great feeling to know that you help these children maintain their roots and culture.” Gourgen went on to say that another reason is that there are, “No jobs in Javakhk, and the ones that do exist don’t pay well. You have to go to Russia and send money back. I don’t want to go to Russia; I prefer staying and being active in scouts.”

Raffi Geovoghlanian, one of the Jamboree organizers and member of the Executive Committee, tried to explain what the Jamboree’s purpose. “We bring them together and show them that we are all a family, a strong family that can do anything together. The kids feel strong and proud here in Armenia, many of them have never seen what Armenia really is,” he said.

Photo by Mkhitar KhachatrianBesides camp activities, the organizers also take the scouts to different areas of Armenia. On Thursday, a large group visited Garni and Geghard. On Friday went climbing in Ashtarak. And, on the last three days of the Jamboree, the scouts are taken to Yerevan and given free time to explore and visit different places. All in all, the scouts get to see more of Armenia than most tourists – and even some residents.

President Robert Kocharian paid a visit last week to greet the scouts and welcome them to Armenia. In response, Homenetmen presented the President with an honorary neck bandana and gave him the title of “First Scout”.

The Jamboree will officially end on August 7.

Photos by Mkhitar Khachatrian & Photolure

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